Maintenance. We are currently updating the site. Please check back shortly

Thomson Reuters Foundation

Inform - Connect - Empower

To all the women who bore the heaviest burden of our history

Source: Mon, 31 Mar 2014 09:42 GMT
Author: Jeannette Kagame
hum-war wom-rig hum-peo hum-rig
In this 2009 file photo, Rwanda's President Paul Kagame and first lady Jeannette Kagame lay a wreath at a mass grave in the capital Kigali REUTERS/Hereward Holland
Tweet Recommend Google + LinkedIn Email Print
Leave us a comment

Any views expressed in this article are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

As Rwanda prepares to mark the 20th anniversary of the Genocide against the Tutsi on the 7th of April, I wish to pay particular tribute to the valiant Rwandan women who have borne the greatest burden of our history.

In 1994, our country stared deep into the depths of human cruelty that knew no bounds. Rwandan women who survived the genocide saw this horror and went through an immeasurable anguish. They witnessed a nation and its people robbed of dignity. The lights of too many of our mothers, daughters, sisters and wives were extinguished amid the debris and despair. Theirs are stories too agonizing to tell, too painful to recount.

Suzanne, you were 58 years old then, when you fell victim to one of the most heinous weapons of war: rape. Yours was not a singular instance of pain and humiliation, as interahamwe militia systematically killed your family and neighbours. You were raped day in, day out until you lost consciousness. Suzanne, you were stripped bare of all humanity and dignity and incapacitated in every way. You could neither sit nor stand, or go about your daily chores.

Josephine, you survived the waves of killings in ’59, ’63, ’73. But in 1994 your seven children and husband, who should have been a part of your future and not your past, were cold-bloodedly ripped from your loving arms.

Yolande, you were hunted down day and night, and made a choice no mother should have to: to separate with your children. In fear of all of your lives, you decided that, in order to increase your chances of survival, your niece should hide your three precious children. But when your niece returned towards the end of the genocide, all alone, the sight was too much to bear. Yolande, you faced a dilemma too difficult for us to understand.

Rose, you cradled your teenage daughter, Hyacinthe, as she died in your arms at the St. Famille church. Her budding life snatched away at the behest of a notoriously brutal Roman Catholic priest who to this day continues to preach unabated in different parishes in France. Rose, you departed before seeing justice exacted, but rest assured your death has not been in vain.

Sonia, every April you are haunted by the image of the man who was shot in front of your four year-old eyes. You could still feel his blood spilling on your face. After seventeen years of concealing your trauma, trying your best to be brave, you broke down and suffered from post-traumatic stress. Your loved ones stood firmly by you; they were willing to go to any lengths to see their little girl fight this disorder.

Dianne, you are now at university, but the same man who raped your mother, raped you when you were just five-years-old. Your body continues to suffer the consequences of that ill-fated day; you do not know if you will ever bear children of your own.

To those of you whose loved ones were mercilessly flung in the rivers, I cry with you as you lay tributes of petals in solemn remembrance of your dear departed ones. For those who may never find your beloved ones, nor have any place of remembrance or solace, my heart reaches out to you.

To those who have been unable to release their pain and shed tears, standing instead with courage and resilience in support of your brothers and sisters. I pray that you will one day find peace and closure.

To those of you who still live, having lost so much: I appeal to you not be discouraged by the naysayers, the deniers of the genocide and revisers of our history. Do not allow them to define who we are. Do not allow them to reopen your wounds.  Do not allow them to alter our heroes. Do not allow them to rewrite our history.

To the true patriots of this nation let us remember those whose lives were robbed, unite for a better future and renew our faith in humanity.

To the unsung heroines, I salute you for bearing, with such incredible grace and admirable strength, the burden of our horrific history.

As Rwandans prepare to Kwibuka (remember) for the 20th time, I thank you Suzanne, Josephine, Yolande, Hyacinthe, Rose, Sonia and Dianne for personifying generations of women who have shouldered the burden of tragedy and the unimaginable challenges that ensued. I salute you and all my Rwandan sisters, for standing strong in the face of adversity, for coming out hopeful, resilient and dignified.

If you have not given up, how can we?

The author is the first lady of Rwanda.

We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of the Thomson Reuters Foundation. For more information see our Acceptable Use Policy.

comments powered by Disqus
RELATED CONTENT
Related Content
Most Popular
TOPICAL CONTENT
Topical content
LATEST SLIDESHOW

Latest slideshow

See allSee all
FEATURED JOBS
Featured jobs